Posted: 30.03.2023 17:38:00

Here’s what the lens can say

From negative to positive. History of Belarusian photography.

You can see the first photographs of 1840-1860, unique postcards with views of Belarusian cities, cameras and rare printed thematic editions of the late 19th — early 20th century at the From Negative to Positive exhibition of the famous historian and collector Vladimir Likhodedov, which s held at the National Historical Museum of the Republic of Belarus

Ambrotype of the Minsk Kaplan family (1854-1860s)

The exposition is timed to coincide with the opening of the photographic research sector in the museum. Its appearance was facilitated by an agreement signed with the support of the ministries of culture of Belarus and Russia in early December 2022 during the 5th Museum Forum between the National Historical Museum of the Republic of Belarus and the State Museum and Exhibition Centre ROSPHOTO from St. Petersburg.
Daguerreotype of the Minsk 
Kaplan family (1840-1850s)
“The National Historical Museum, as the owner of the largest collections, including photographic ones, oversees the creation of a general catalogue of the country’s museum fund. Having started work on the digitisation of museum objects, we realised that photography should be deeply involved. Interaction with ROSPHOTO is important to us. This is a large research centre that has developed a huge methodological base for the study and research of photographs, has an extensive digital collection of photographic exhibits from all museums in Russia. The specialists of the centre are ready to share their experience with our team by organising annual internships for us. Co-operation with the famous historian and owner of the unique collection Vladimir Likhodedov is a good reason to start a large-scale project to preserve the common historical heritage in the Year of Peace and Creation,” Director of the National Historical Museum of the Republic of Belarus Aliaksandr Khromoy says.
Indeed, the life of a modern person cannot be imagined without photography. Over time, even unpretentious, but so popular today selfies against the background of architectural monuments and sights in cities and villages, amateur family photos can become the subject of deep scientific study. Nevertheless, this is a matter for future generations! And ours now is to marvel at the priceless artefacts that have been preserved since the middle of the century before last.
The exhibition presents unique daguerreotypes of the 1840s–1850s, on which, from a certain angle, you can see images of respectable men in tailcoats and smartly dressed women of different ages with neatly styled hair in the fashion of those years fixed on silver or silver-plated copper plates. 
“Daguerreotype is a very time-consuming and expensive process. To take one picture, the visitor had to sit still for 30–40 minutes. For this, special devices were used to support the head. The first photos were really expensive, literally and figuratively! Now they are generally priceless. It is a great honour for any museum to have them in its collections,” the curator of the exhibition, Head of the Photographic Research Sector of the National Historical Museum Svetlana Khoruzhik notes.

Frame history

Daguerreotype of the Minsk 
Kaplan family (1840-1850s)
The date of the invention of photography is considered to be 1839: then, at a meeting of the French Academy of Sciences, a report was first presented on daguerreotype, or an early photographic process based on the photosensitivity of silver iodide. The first photographs, daguerreotypes, are named after their creator, Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre.
Photography, not having time to appear, began to develop very quickly. Moreover, already in the 1850s, daguerreotypes were replaced by ambrotypes (images on glass) and instant photo-pherotypes (images on metal). The latter were widely used in the 1920s.
By the way, one of the ambrotypes from 1850-1860 probably depicts the first Minsk photographer Anton Prushinsky. The picture is not signed, and it is impossible to say this with complete certainty, but the man is very similar to Anton Prushinsky from a photograph of a later period.
Minsk family. Berman’s photo studio
(beginning of the 20th century).
A separate stand is dedicated to the family of a well-known entrepreneur at that time, the owner of the printing house Ilya Lvovich Kaplan. On it is a photo from an extensive archive, which Vladimir Likhodedov was lucky enough to acquire from his descendants, including daguerreotypes and ambrotypes depicting representatives of the genus. Pictures of the beginning of the 20th century are also interesting: wherever the Kaplans were photographed — in Switzerland, in France, in England, in Germany, and, of course, in various picturesque corners of Belarus!
The entrepreneur also had his own trading house, located at the corner of Gubernatorskaya and Zakharyevskaya Streets (today it is Lenina Street and Independence Avenue), in which there was also a sales department for cameras and photographic accessories of the most famous world manufacturers. By the way, similar cameras of the late 19th – early 20th centuries are presented at the exhibition. There is also a personal camera of the Kaplans, as well as many letters and postcards sent to the Minsk address of the family from different parts of the world.
Mogilev children. Fishman’s photo studio (beginning of the 20th century).
Fans of photographic art will also appreciate rare printed thematic publications of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including several issues of the Photographic Leaflet for 1914, the illustrated catalogue German Export, and the instruction manual for Agfa and Gauff cameras. In addition, looking through the illustrated price lists of photographic warehouses of Anatoly Werner and F. Joachim, we can learn not only about the cost of certain accessories, the variety of which was impressive, but also about the history of their appearance, read about technical features and even customer reviews. This is the level of sales of the beginning of the twentieth century! True, does it somehow resemble modern trading on the Internet and through social networks?
Numerous postcards with views of Belarusian cities and their inhabitants will help you finally immerse yourself in the atmosphere of that time.
A photo zone at the exhibition could not have come at a better time. Each visitor can leave a memory of an unusual exposition by sitting down on a comfortable old sofa against the background of images from the century before last and pressing a button on the phone’s camera.

By Vladimir Matyushkin
Photos from the personal collection of Vladimir Likhodedov